97: Healing Connections

97: Healing Connections

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Tough Times, Tough People

Healing Connections

It is some relief to weep; grief is satisfied and carried off by tears.

~Ovid

A dusting of snow fell that late October morning in Colorado. By lunchtime brilliant sunshine was melting most of it, but that evening, as I drove through an older neighborhood of Colorado Springs, streetlamps glittered on small white patches that had been shaded during the afternoon.

I parked my car and walked carefully up steps to the front porch of a frame house that would have been new when my grandparents moved to Colorado Springs in 1908. I was not sure what had drawn me to this city but I felt a strong pull when an acquaintance there had asked me to house- and dog-sit for her for a month while she was abroad. I looked forward to exploring this area, as I remembered my grandparents’ stories about their year in Colorado. And so I had come from Texas for a month in the mountains.

As I prowled historic Manitou Springs, I recognized why I had come to the region for the first time: connecting. For this is where my grandfather brought Grandma after the death of their oldest child, my mother’s “big sister” and my aunt. And I, too, was moving through the grief process following the sudden death of my younger son.

Little Kathryn died at age six of complications of diphtheria and whooping cough. My grandmother had to cope with both her grief and the pregnancy that resulted in my mother’s birth a few months later. Their five-year-old son who was inconsolable at his sister’s death added to the trauma, and Grandma’s health suffered. Doctors recommended a change of scene. Grandfather moved the family from Oklahoma to Manitou Springs.

My grandparents would have understood my grief. I had spent most of my childhood in their home during the Great Depression of the 1930s. We had been exceptionally close. As I walked the streets of Manitou Springs, I could easily imagine them as the young couple they had been when Kathryn died. I felt them with me in spirit now as I coped with the loss of my son at age twenty-seven.

At least my grandparents had each other. I was widowed, with one loving son now, far away in graduate school and working. I did not want to burden him further as he, too, was grieving for his lost brother. With no other close family, I had to find my own way. And I reached for whatever comfort and help I could find, even from strangers.

I had been in Colorado Springs a week when I read in the newspaper of a meeting of parents who had lost children. And that is what brought me to a house I did not know on this cold night.

A small woman answered my knock and drew me into a warm living room.

“Please come in and join us,” she said. “Let me take your coat.” Eight people in a semi-circle of chairs around a couch seemed to fill the room. I was offered space on the couch. As I sat down, I saw that a woman was crying. Another woman’s arm was around her shoulder. The weeping woman had been telling her story and resumed as soon as I was seated. When she finished, each person introduced himself or herself with not only a name but why they were present. The stories were heart-rending, starting with that of a stillborn whose parents had known only a brief moment of holding her, yet such an important moment to them. That young couple was grieving for what they had not known of their child. I grieved for what I did know as well as for what would never be.

I do not recall all the details of that evening. I know there were some stories I did not want to hear. I gritted my mental teeth and reminded myself, “They need to talk and we must offer ears and hearts to listen. We do not have to absorb each tragic word. We need only allow them to talk, so they do not have to scream to an empty room. And after a while, they will listen to me, too.”

We touched one another with compassion. Arms went quickly around a man whose son had shot himself. Hands held tightly to a woman whose son had died while sending messages to buddies on his computer. Hands held mine as we prayed together for courage and faith in a humane world.

I left that meeting feeling drained and terribly sad. For the woman who had been crying when I entered the house and who was obviously in shock. I thought of the middle-aged man who had made room for me on the couch. He had said very little, still not understanding his loss. I remembered the young couple who held hands when they spoke of losing their baby. And of the woman who had offered us hospitality, whose daughter had died because of a mistake in a hospital.

There had been much pain in that living room, but also much loving understanding. I saw from the other faces as we left that the hour we spent sharing our pain had helped us all. We had given each other strength in this toughest of times. It was an important step in healing our raw wounds. My gratitude ran deep.

As I got into my car, I looked up at the dark autumn sky, with its brilliant points of starlight. I took a deep breath of ice-tinged mountain air. How small we are in the universe, I thought. Yet I felt connected to the whole of life and all its drama, good and bad.

Back at my temporary house, I took the dogs for a last quick walk. Then we hurried inside to warmth and bed, mine under a great down comforter and theirs companionably nearby in a large lined basket. Before falling asleep, I thought again of my grandparents during their time in these mountains. I felt a closeness to them that spanned time and generations. That, too, was a comfort I took to myself and I slept blessedly without sad dreams.

~Marcia E. Brown

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